There are a number of ways you can self-assess your sustainability as a small business.
You might look at your long-term economic viability, you could calculate your carbon emissions, your broader impact on the environment or you might be concerned with the social impact of your business on the people and community around you.
You could look at these things in isolation but ultimately, to conduct a full sustainability report, you would want to look at all of these things including how they intersect.
But for my first sustainability report for Sustainability Cubed, I’m going to focus on the companies we work with, the sustainability of our office space and various community initiatives.
You could conduct a similar analysis for your own business or on a personal level. Once you know who you’re dealing with you can decide if you want to continue your relationship or make positive changes.
A lot of the information gathered here is found on the business’ website, meaning it’s self-reported. Naturally, that comes with some issues but I will take that at face value for now.
Sustainability Cubed Sustainability Report
I’ve used the following independent resources to determine the sustainability impact of the companies I work with, as well as the companies’ own websites (acknowledging the potential bias) and related resources.
Advertising and Affiliate Relationships
I’ve been working with Mediavine for the last five years. They are a small US-based company that provides display advertising to content creators and small businesses. There’s little regarding sustainability on their website but they do have a strong position on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. They make it easy for publishers to show various charity ads in unfilled ad slots and you can block ads from industries that don’t align with your ethics. I would like to hear more about their efforts in environmental sustainability.
Amazon Associate Program
Sustainability targets at Amazon include being net-zero carbon by 2040, 100% renewable energy but 2025 and having 50% of all shipments net zero carbon by 2030. I believe their targets don’t go anywhere near far enough, especially for a multi-billion dollar company, and their targets aren’t being reached soon enough. Some good things; they are purchasing 100,000 electric delivery vehicles, they have pledged $2 billion to support technologies that reduce carbon emissions and they’re investing $100 million in reforestation projects. While these are beneficial programs, they’re doing the bare minimum instead of leading the way in sustainability. Unfortunately, Amazon has a reputation for its poor treatment of employees, shocking so. Honestly, I would prefer not to work with Amazon purely for the unethical treatment of their employees but there aren’t a lot of alternatives in the online retail space. I’m working to move away from Amazon where I can.
I’ve been working with Booking for many years, using them as a major affiliate partner on my travel blog. To be honest, I wasn’t aware of their sustainability initiatives until researching them for this report. It seems like they are taking some steps towards developing sustainable tourism via a number of programs. For example, they have the Booking Cares Volunteers program where employees participate in various volunteer projects. The Booking Booster accelerator program supports sustainable startups and they co-founded Travalyst, a global initiative promoting change in tourism leading to responsible travel. They are also part of an alliance working to end cruel wildlife entertainment.
This is all great in theory but how this plays out in practice is yet to be seen. I suspect there might be a fair bit of greenwashing taking place so it’s something I’ll be keeping a close eye on.
I would like to see them working with accommodation providers to be more sustainable and even de-list the worst sustainability and environmental offenders.
Additionally, having met many small accommodation owners over the years, I can say there are negatives to working with Booking. The most notable being the significant commission they take. This can have a considerable impact on the bottom line of small businesses in the lower end of the market and in cheaper destinations. The other issue is that Booking dominates the market. There is little competition and if you don’t work with them it’s almost impossible to survive.
Website Domain & Hosting
I’ve been working with Namecheap for more than 10 years as my primary provider of domain names. They continue to campaign for net neutrality and other internet freedoms. There is nothing on their website regarding sustainability but I would always support them over someone like GoDaddy whose founder was infamous for boasting about killing elephants in his spare time (amongst many other scandals).
I recently switched to Cloudways (with Vultr) for my website hosting. In 2021, Cloudways joined the One Tree Planted program that supports global reforestation. You can read more about One Tree Planted here. They also have some social sustainability initiatives that support the health and wellbeing of their employees, they provide discounts to non-profit organisations and give assistance to startups. I’m glad I switched from Liquid Web to Cloudways.
Business, Design & Marketing Software
They say around 30% of the internet is powered by WordPress, the content management system I use for all my websites. WordPress is owned by Automattic and their creed focuses on sustainable growth and positive impact while also promoting diversity and inclusion. They don’t seem to be doing much in the way of converting to or promoting clean energy, nor are they transparent about their environmental impact.
I’m a long-time user of a number of Adobe products, most notably Lightroom for photo editing, Premiere Pro for video editing and Acrobat for pdf creation and reading. Adobe has a detailed sustainability policy. They believe in science-based targets and are committed to 100% renewable power.
Substack is a newsletter subscription service for writers, journalists, bloggers and anyway who would like to share their thoughts with an audience. I use Substack as my newsletter provider. I can’t find anything about sustainability on their website. That’s something I’ll be looking into.
Dropbox is an online file sharing and storage company. They are a large company listed on the NASDAQ with a turnover of $1.7b. After quite a bit of searching on their website and various forums, I can’t find any kind of climate, energy, environmental or social impact statements of policy. They have basically zero transparency on what they’re doing according to this report from 2015.
I use Evernote for taking notes which are synced across all devices, scanning documents and receipts and most importantly, writing my blog posts. I’ve used it for many years and continue to use it daily but the economic sustainability of the company has been called into question in recent years. There is no mention of corporate responsibility or the environment on their website. I’m not sure of any viable alternatives but things aren’t looking good for Evernote right now.
I recently switched from Evernote to Notion. I’m still investigating their sustainability measures.
Singapore based Ahrefs has a diverse international team. I’m happy to support them as a small business for now but there’s nothing on their website regarding sustainability and the environment. However, they are showing strong support for Ukraine in the war with Russia with the prominent placement of donation links and support for their Ukrainian colleagues.
Sydney based Canva has excellent reviews on Glassdoor, a good sign they treat their employees well. They also supported their employees attending the global climate strikes in September 2019. Canva provides its premium services for free to non-profit organisations. Other than that I don’t know much about the company but I do like to support Australian businesses where I can.
Search & Email
I use Google as my email provider as well as my primary search engine. I like what German startup Ecosia is doing with their search engine but I continue to find myself returning to Google due to better user experience. Google.com actually gets quite a good energy rating in a Greenpeace report with 46% of their energy use coming from clean energy and a 100% renewable energy target.
Like many creatives, I use an Apple computer for my work along with other Apple products. I currently use an Apple Macbook Pro, an iPhone 10, iPad Pro and yes, I even have a completely unnecessary Apple Watch. These products are not particularly sustainable but my view is if we must purchase these things then only do so on an as-needed basis. By that I mean only replacing items when they break or become unusable for some reason rather than buying the latest release every year or two. For example, I’ve had my Macbook Pro since 2012 (it still works perfectly fine), my iPad Pro is from 2016 and my Apple Watch is from the same year. I won’t be replacing anything until they completely die.
As a photography enthusiast, I love having a nice camera and lenses but like with my Apple purchases, I try not to buy unnecessarily. I use an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark I, the very first E-M1 to be released way back in 2013. In June 2020, Olympus announced they are going out of business after 84 years of making cameras. I’ve very disappointed, to say the least, as I love my OM-D and have a number of Zuiko pro lenses. I will hang on to my Olympus as long as I can but I guess I will eventually return to Canon.
Phone & Internet
I use Telstra as my phone and internet provider. As one of the largest ASX listed companies in Australia, they do the minimum required regarding sustainability targets and the environment. There are few alternative providers in Australia so Telstra it is for now.
At this time I don’t own a car and don’t need one for work but I am planning on purchasing a car soon. I’ve lived car-free for many years, preferring to use public transport, ride my bike or walk. I’m happy without a car, even though public transport in Perth is massively inconvenient. Purchasing a car isn’t the best financial or environmental decision but with COVID-19, I’ve decided it would be prudent to have a car to ensure I can socially distance myself whenever necessary. So I’ll soon be buying a second-hand car from a family member. I wish it was an electric vehicle but the cost is prohibitively expensive for me right now.
Financial and Legal Services
Xero is the accounting software I use to run my business, Roaming Media, and I highly recommend it. Founded in New Zealand, Xero quickly developed a strong presence in Australia and now globally. They have a Social and Environmental Impact Advisor overseeing their clear sustainability plan which focuses on community, achieving net zero carbon emissions and diversity in the workplace. It’s nice to see strong leadership placing importance on the issue of sustainability. Xero has a Glassdoor rating of 4.2 which suggests it’s a great place to work.
As an ASX listed company and one of Australia’s big four banks, ANZ has significant corporate sustainability reporting. Their interim and annual sustainability reviews analyse performance and targets. In the area of environmental sustainability, their improvements include increasing renewable energy use (four wind turbines in Murra Warra and the use of solar in the Melbourne CBD offices). ANZ has recently reduced paper consumption by 45% and water consumption by 17%. They obviously have many financial initiatives too, especially in relation to housing and COVID-19 assistance. I won’t be changing banks but I’d like to see them doing more considering they are only meeting 84% of their overall targets.
Location & Office
City of Fremantle
Most local councils in Australia are doing great work with the environment and sustainability. Fremantle, in particular, is one of the most progressive councils in the country and I feel fortunate to live and work in this area of Perth. The City of Fremantle follows the 10 One Planet Living principles, certified and overseen by not-for-profit group Bioregional.
I’m very fortunate to be able to work from home. I live in a one-bedroom apartment by the coast with my partner, biking distance to the Fremantle city centre and steps from the train to the Perth CBD. Working from home means no commuting costs and low transport-related carbon emissions while living and working in a small apartment means my energy use is extremely low. Thanks to the coastal location, the afternoon sea breeze keeps the building cool in summer and I rarely need to turn on the heat in winter. There are water-saving measures in place in the building as well. The big negative is that the building was constructed by Mirvac, an ASX listed company that pays exactly zero corporate tax thanks to the questionable ethics of its corporate structure.
Most of my office furniture either comes from Ikea or is second hand. I believe in keeping non-essential purchases to a minimum but we have to be realistic, consumer behaviour isn’t going to change any time soon. People love affordable shopping and Ikea’s marketing techniques promote impulse purchases and repeat purchases. However, for a large retail organisation relying on consumer consumption, I do believe Ikea is leading the way to make positive change. But are Ikea’s sustainability measures really creating a positive impact or is it simply greenwashing? I won’t go into the details of Ikea’s sustainability plans as it’s been done well here and here but I at least they’re heading in the right direction.
Pre-COVID-19, I was regularly volunteering for various local organisations. This was mostly doing beach cleanups, tree planting and weeding as well as being involved with local politics. I plan to continue with this as a way to become more involved with the local community. But for the moment, I’m choosing to avoid any non-essential activities and staying home when possible.
I have a few charities I personally donate to on a regular basis but I’m yet to donate in the name of my business. I’ve read good things about 1% for the Planet which sounds like a good starting point. I’ll update here once I get this setup and I’ll provide receipts of all donations. If you have any thoughts on corporate donations, I’d love to hear them.